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One Piece: Stampede (2019)

Up until a few years ago, when a movie was released as a spin-off for an on-going Shonen Jump based anime series, you knew what to expect. Traditionally they took the form of a (slightly) extended episode with (slightly) higher-quality animation, released about once a year. Due to not being able to affect the ongoing continuity of the TV series, they usually also featured new characters and villains. But during the last decade, something changed. Following the success of the newest Dragon Ball Z movies, they have taken a Jump in quality (see what I did there?). Released less frequently, they're now more like 'proper' movies, with higher production values and with closer involvement from the original creator.

This is very much the case with the blockbusting One Piece franchise, with Film Z and Film Gold, definite improvements on the franchise's earlier movies. In 2019, to celebrate the 20th anniversary of the anime series, the most recent movie One Piece: Stampede was released in Japan. The film was directed by Takashi Otsuka, and written by Otsuka and Atsuhiro Tomioka, based on an original story by original creator Eiichiro Oda.  The English release was produced by Funimation and released by Funimation in the US and Manga Entertainment in the United Kingdom. 

In Stampede, the pirates of the world are brought together by Buena Festa on Delta Island for Pirate Expo. Rather than the trade show for the pirate industry (which is what it sounds like) the Expo is actually a treasure hunt. The island contains a mysterious treasure hidden there by the legendary King Of The Pirates Gol D Roger, and the pirates race to become the first to find it, in the hope that it will help them find the One Piece and become the next King.

This plot is, of course, a great excuse to bring together a great deal of the (surviving) characters from the show's history. Every pirate worth their sea salt wants to get hold of the treasure, so many returning characters and crews are there such as The Buggy Pirates, The Foxy Pirates, various Warlords and more. Naturally, the event draws the attention of the Navy, so notable Marines also make an appearance.  New characters include the flamboyant Afro-sporting Buena Festa and the new villain Douglas Bullet, an extremely powerful ex crew-member of Roger. As creations of Oda, they fit right in with the existing characters we know and love.

The story is pretty simple- although it has a few twists along the way- but that's not the important thing here. What One Piece fans want to see is the fun character dynamics and outrageous action, and on that front Stampede delivers in spades. It's part Wacky Races, part Battle Royale as the Straw Hats race to find the treasure before anyone else. The action often has an appropriately cinematic feel, with the showdown with Bullet being particularly impressive.

If you've been watching One Piece via Funimation of Manga's DVD releases then there are elements or references that you may not catch, as this film comes much later in the continuity. However, it's not nearly enough to hamper your enjoyment.  As long as you have some familiarity with the characters, you should be fine. It's pretty accessible to the more casual One Piece fan, although I wouldn't recommend it to a complete newcomer.

Even the most devoted One Piece fan would have to admit that the TV series doesn't always look as good as it could (and that's being polite). It wouldn't take much to make this film look better than the show. However, rather than settle for the 'slightly above TV quality' that most Jump movies go for, the filmmakers have gone all-out to make a film that looks fantastic.

Although the characters look essentially the same as ever, the animation style itself does not. It employs stronger lines and brushstrokes that give it a more handpainted feel. It doesn't really come across in still images, but in motion, it looks fantastic, giving it a new and exciting style. It works especially well in the action scenes which have a thrilling, kinetic feel, that have an almost Kill La Kill-esque style to them at times.

Some obviously CG elements are incorporated throughout, and the results are a little mixed on that front. But its use in the showdown with Bullet works spectacularly. This is definitely the best that animated One Piece has ever looked and the closest it has ever come to doing justice to Eiichiro Oda's phenomenal original manga art.

The film's one hour forty runtime speeds by and not a minute is wasted- it gets going with minimal setup and ends as soon as the story is done. Stampede is surely a must-watch for any One Piece fan and the franchise's strongest feature spin-off to date. Which, for the 14th movie in a series, is quite the feat.



IN A NUTSHELL: Epic, exciting and endlessly entertaining, Stampede is more than worthy as a celebration of 20 years of the One Piece anime.

* Screener provided by Manga Entertainment*